By early August, about half of Alaska’s population was informed that state-owned Alaska Psychiatric Institute was finally within acceptable limits of being in compliance with Medicaid/ Medicare regulations. On Aug. 5, Gov. Mike Dunleavy stood in the Winter Garden of API, surrounded by state officials and news organizations when the announcement was made. As a former patient of API and other psychiatric units, what does it mean for psychiatric facilities to be in compliance with certification organizations? In real terms, little or nothing to the patients.
While in compliance with hospital certification organizations, in 2003, patients at API could complain informally but could not file a formal grievance. According to API records, in 2005, 250 patients complained informally — sexual abuse allegations, complaints of physical abuse, lack of safety, poor treatment by staff, etc. — but not a single patient could file a formal grievance. In 2017, with an annual patient population of 1,400, there were 544 patient complaints, but none could file a formal grievance. A formal grievance would mean a patient could receive help from a patient advocate, bring their grievance to an impartial body within the facility (under Alaska Statute 47.30.847) and receive a written response. The point that is left out of most news stories is that hospital certification organizations do not care if patients have a fair grievance procedure, only that they have a grievance procedure at all.
There are approximately 10,000 acute care psychiatric patients annually in Alaska. There is a laundry list of bad things happening to psychiatric patients because none of them have proper assistance in filing a grievance or have a fair grievance procedure. And the fact that state officials and the general public do not know the number and type of complaints filed by psychiatric patients in each facility only adds to the problem. The only voice psychiatric patients have is the number and type of their complaints; but no state agency is keeping the statistics.
There are approximately 20 locations that evaluate or treat acute care psychiatric patients. The Legislature never required a grievance procedure suitable for individuals with a disability. When psychiatric patients cannot file a grievance in a fair or timely way, for understandable reasons they develop a high level of mistrust towards the system and anger.
The Winter Garden at API is off-limits to patients without an escort. When Governor Mike Dunleavy gave his speech in the Winter Garden, the cameras were positioned so that patients could not be seen in the hallway. How much better for patients if they could have been given the opportunity to talk to and petition their Governor for fair rights and quality of care.
Faith Myers volunteers as a patient advocate and, over a three-year period, spent six months in locked psychiatric facilities and evaluation and treatment units, most recently in 2003.
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